Category Archives: Reviews

The Muslims by Zanib Mian

I first came across this book when I saw it mentioned in an article in Books for Keeps by Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor, one of a series of articles they’re writing looking at representations of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices in children’s books. I tweeted about how much I liked the sound of it and the author very kindly offered to send me a copy, which happened to arrive the day before it was announced that it had won The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2018, and I inhaled it on a bus journey the following day.

One of the other titles mentioned in that same article is I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, which is a really exciting YA novel about a Muslim girl becoming more devout as she learns more about Islam, affected by the Prevent strategy and under the threat of potential radicalisation. I had a few interesting conversations about the representation of a range of Muslim backgrounds when it came out in January, I thought that the characters were portrayed very realistically and I could see a number of my school friends in there, but the only disappointment is that she was *actually* at risk of radicalisation. “Disappointment” isn’t quite the right word there, it helped to make the story exciting, but what I mean is that there is a real need for Muslim stories that don’t focus on extremism, but that do give a picture of British Muslim life. That is exactly what The Muslims does, albeit for a younger audience, and that is why I love it so much.

Omar is a normal 9 year old boy (with an invisible dragon following him) who is worried about starting a new school. It certainly doesn’t shy away from Islamophobia and racism, there is a mean boy in his new class who tells him to “go home” and his grumpy neighbour coins the name “The Muslims” when talking about them to her son, but it deals with it with great humour and honesty. He tells us about Ramadan and has a go at fasting (and hopes that Allah will reward him with a Ferrari), he talks about duas and praying, he brings the reader to the Mosque, all without patronising children that know about all of this (indeed, letting them see themselves in the story) but at the same time introducing it to non-Muslim readers in a really entertaining way. One scene in particular, on their way to Manchester to visit cousins, made me laugh out loud on the bus. It is published by a tiny, pretty new publishing house called Sweet Apple, who aim to publish high quality commercial picture books that truly reflect the world we live in, and is their first foray into books for older readers.

The Muslims is a gem of a book, it needs to be in every school and on every reading list. I’m really looking forward to more of Omar’s adventures!

*at the time of writing, The Muslims is on special offer at Letterbox Library for a mere £5!

Dark Nights: Metal

The Dark Knight has uncovered one of the lost mysteries of the universe…one that could destroy the very fabric of the DC Universe! The dark corners of reality that have never been seen till now! The Dark Multiverse is revealed in all its devastating danger–a team of twisted, evil versions of Batman hellbent on destroying the DC Universe!

I first read of the demon Barbatos in Batman 452, the first part of Dark Knight, Dark City trilogy – you may remember it, it had the Mike “Hellboy” Mignola cover, actually the covers for all three issues were by Mignola. I remember tracking the comics down for ages before finding them for sale at a stall on Cape Town train Station. It was these three comics that made me a Batman fan – written by Peter Milligan, they detailed the Batman hunting for his foe the Riddler through the streets of Gotham, plagued by riddles that made no sense, flashbacks to the founding fathers of the United States of America engaging in a sacrifice to raise a demon. This was the stuff of ‘70’s pulp horror novels and the satanic panic of the ‘80’s, it had teenage me hooked!

Flashforward 27 years to the release of Metal – a miniseries to end all miniseries, centring on the nightmares of the Batman, the world is slipping into darkness, twisted beings from the darkest realities stalk the night. All of them wearing the symbol of the Bat and towering above them all, its name spoken only in whispers is Barbatos!

I had to, read it I mean again and again. How could the Batman triumph against his darkest selves, the story was dark and twisted, referencing the darkest aspects of the Batmythology, this is honestly I think Scott Snyder’s finest written work featuring the Bat!

The artwork by Greg Capullo fits the tone of the story perfectly! I have not read a comic illustrated by him since I cancelled my Spawn subscription. His work is better than I remember it – and I remember it being phenomenal!

Snyders words and Capullo’s art blend together to bring you the darkest takes on the Darkest Knight and it works perfectly!

God, I was 15 again, a Batfan for the first time and I revelled in it!

I have read Metal even, maybe eight times since I received a copy and tonight I am going to read it again!

You should too – go on treat your shelf!

Akissi: Tales of Mischief


What do flying sheep, super-missiles, and grandmother-attacking coconuts have in common?

One feisty little girl!

Join Akissi and friends as they get up to all sorts of antics around their town in the Ivory coast.

There’s loads of fun to be had… as long as they manage to stay out of trouble!

I have been aware of Marguerite Abouet’s work for a few years now as a friend introduced me to her Aya series of graphic novels about a young woman living in Yop City in Côte d’Ivoire in the 1970’s. Written by Marguerite and illustrated by her husband and partner Clément Oubrerie.

Akissi, published in English by Flying Eye Books was a welcome return to West Africa, a series of the comic misadventures about the eponymous heroine, a small girl living in a village somewhere in the Côte d’Ivoire. Written for a young audience, this comic will be a hit with readers of all ages.

Marguerite Abouet is a keen observer of the lives of small children, she has captured several things that I have found my toddler doing and going by the cartoons I have many more to look forward to; although I hope and pray that we never acquire a pet monkey! There was one incident in the book involving Akissi and her older brother Fofana that took place one night when she was too afraid to go outside that mirrored an event from my childhood (I am not going to say which one in case my brother ever reads this).

My favourite vignette (and there are so many to choose from) was Sunday Feast, it made me laugh out loud (although the hilarity as tinged with a hint of guilt at the potential blasphemy)

Akissi is funny, heartfelt and a very real look into the lives of children!

The art in this volume is by Mathieu Sapin who captures the frenetic energy of children running around or just being, perfectly!

How to be a Lion by Ed Vere

Meet Leonard – a lion like no other. Leonard doesn’t like to raw and chomp. Leonard likes to read and daydream on his thinking hill.

Leonard’s best friend is Marianne, a duck. But lions chomp ducks, don’t they? But Leonard doesn’t want to chomp Marianne!
 
Leonard and Marianne work together to write a special poem to show the other fierce lions that just because lions are supposed to be fierce, it doesn’t mean they have to be.

How to be a Lion is beautiful – this should come as no surprise as Ed Vere is always a phenomenal artist, but his words can stand on their own and they form a beautiful meditation on the power of being different, ignoring the herd (in this case the pride) and being true to your beliefs, yourself and your friends; and in knowing that tough decisions do not have to be faced alone.

As the cool, young kids of today say this book gave me all the feels!

It is usually extremely hard to find a picture book of the year but for me, I think, it may be How to be a Lion!

How to be a Lion is written and illustrated by Ed Vere, published by Puffin Books and will be available in all good bookshops on the 28th June.

Home Boys ~ Alex Wheatle

home boys.jpgFour friends decide to run away from the horror of their everyday lives in a children’s home in the English countryside. They head for the woods, their sense of freedom surprises them, and for the first time they feel the exhilaration of adolescence. Yet the forest slowly asserts its own power and what happens there will affect the four boys’ lives forever.

My initial reaction when picking up Home Boys was the thought that this was going to be an upsetting read with no joy or redemption contained within the pages. I was wrong! Home Boys is bleak and hard to read, but it is also a beautifully written, opening with grief and loss in the mid 1980’s as we are introduced the major players of this drama it then dives further back the 1970’s where the boys’ story begins. As hard and uncompromising as it was, Home Boys ends on a note of hope that I did not see coming, friendships and love built over years endure beyond what many people expect and continues past the story ending.

Alex Wheatle, always a gripping writer has given us an important work about life as a kid in care in the 1970’s and how brutality and abuse within the system can continue to distort and destroy lives down the years. Where Home Boys shines are in the interactions between the friends, capturing the love, anger, growing tensions and everything else that bubbles up within adolescent peer groups.

Wheatle weaves in the overt racism of the 1970’s and does not shy away from the language and brutality that still lingers just beneath the surface of society to this day. Home Boys is an important read – to help us face the cruelty and mistreatment that was prevalent in many care homes of the recent past, as well as the abuses people of colour still face to this day.

Home Boys by Alex Wheatle is published by Arcadia books and is available now

There is a Rumer going round…

Rumer Cross is cursed. Scraping by working for a dingy London detective agency, she lives in the shadow of her mother, a violent criminal dubbed the ‘Witch Assassin’ whose bloodthirsty rampage terrorised London for over a decade.

Raised by foster families who never understood her and terrified she could one day turn into her mother, Rumer has become detached and self-reliant. But when she’s targeted by a vicious mobster who believes she’s hiding an occult relic, she’s drawn into the very world she’s been fighting to avoid.

Hunted by assassins and haunted by her mother’s dark legacy, Rumer must also confront a terrible truth: that she’s cursed, because no matter what she does, everybody she’s ever grown close to has died screaming.

Bloody good and at times just plain bloody… Vicious Rumer is a book that I refuse to call a guilty secret – because no-one should feel guilty about what they read! There are times I just want a good knock-down, curb-stomp novel that grabs me by the eyes and drags me through a city’s dark underbelly leaving me wanting a cigarette and a stiff drink!

Billed as a thriller for fans of Jessica Jones, Lisbeth Salander and films like The Craft I came to this book with high expectations and Josh not only met those expectations he exceeded them in ways too bloody to mention in a family-friendly library blog like this one!

Key-words: anti-hero, blood, violence, gore, bad guys, worse guys, make it stop, please make it stop!

Vicious Rumer is out soon from those stout-hearted folk at Unbound – order it in print or pixels here: https://unbound.com/books/vicious-rumer/

The Smoke by Simon Ings

Humanity has been split into three different species. Mutual incomprehension has fractured the globe. As humans race to be the first of their kind to reach the stars, another Great War looms.

For you that means returning to Yorkshire and the town of your birth, where factories churn out the parts for gigantic spaceships. You’re done with the pretentions of the capital and its unfathomable architecture. You’re done with the people of the Bund, their easy superiority and unstoppable spread throughout the city of London and beyond. You’re done with Georgy Chernoy and his questionable defeat of death. You’re done with his daughter, Fel, and losing all the time. You’re done with love.

But soon enough you will find yourself in the Smoke again, drawn back to the life you thought you’d left behind.

You’re done with love. But love’s not done with you.

The Smoke crept in through my eyes and settled under my skin, setting up an itch each time I put the book down, the only scratch that soothed it was picking it up and losing myself in this strangely different earth.

There was a problem though, for me The Smoke was not a book I could read while tired, Simon Ings’ text is richly descriptive, beautiful and compelling but each evening as I lay in bed with my eyes devouring the text, I found myself reading and rereading pages because my weary mind was having difficulty absorbing the story.

So I made a decision to read The Smoke during the day in my lunch hours and during library lessons where I encouraged students to pick a book and read it. Selflessly I read The Smoke to show them how easy it is to sink into an amazing book! How quickly those moments fled when I was immersed in the world that Simon had created, I grew to dread the sound of the school bell ringing signalling the end of my break or the end of a lesson, but I persevered and managed to spend time in this compelling, strange new world and do my job.

The Smoke is a book to take your time with, it’s story will reward you if you do not rush through it!

The Smoke is the kind Science Fiction I love and look out for when I have the time.

The Smoke, written by Simon Ings and published by Orbit Books is out now! I think you should buy it or request it from your local library!

Mine by S.A. Partridge

On stage, Fin is Thor. Angry and invincible. Yet for all his potential, people always leave him. Kayla is the only girl he’s ever met who’s worth loving. The only one he’s ever wanted to be worth something for.

Kayla knows she’s weird and unlovable. But she wants to believe there is no reason to be sad anymore.

In each other Fin and Kayla find the only place they’ve ever belonged. Until the ghosts from the past come to break them apart.

This book is something else!

I could tell you that Mine by Sally Partridge is one of the best YA novels I have read this year. Or I could explain (at length) how she has captured the very essence of young love and toxic high school relationships.

Maybe I could try to convince you that this book will resonate with anyone who has been, or is, in love and will recognise the feelings of desire, insecurity and fear that well up as we try to second-guess what the object of affection is thinking or feeling at any given time.

I could, but I won’t – instead I will just say that this book should be an essential part of any YA selection in libraries or in private ownership! Buy it, read it and share it – you will, laugh, you will cry, you will get angry and at the end you will say “Jesus I did not see that coming!” (well that is what I said anyway), I am still not over it – thanks Sally!

Told from the point of view of Fin and Kayla in alternating chapters their passion for each other is so raw and real that it almost hurts to read their story. It is testament to Sally’s skill as a writer that even when our main characters are portrayed at their worst and most unlikable that we never lose the feelings of sympathy and hope for their future.

Mine is a beautiful, broken love story that will remain with you long after you have finished reading.

Mine is published by Human & Rosseau in South Africa and is available now

A Change is Gonna Come: Review by Alison Tarrant


This is a collection of short stories and poetry by various authors, all of whom come from diverse backgrounds. There is a real range of characters, stories and settings here, but they were all a delight to read – though delight is not what I felt when reading.

The stories enclosed in this book are powerful experiences – Dear Asha by Mary Bello had me crying into my tea on a lunch break, Hackney Moon by Tanya Bryne is the story of first love and relationships with a brilliant ending that definitely had me reacting (but I won’t say how for fear of spoiling it!). Meanwhile Clean Sweep by Patrice Lawrence and We Who? by Nikesh Shukla talk about incredibly important themes in the current world – punishment, reality dramas, and the media while all the time being focused on the human impact – love, friendship, neglect, bullying and control.

The different stories chart the lives of young people in the UK, America and Nigeria, in refugee camps, and homes, and schools. It represents the world that I know exists, and that so often is lacking from fiction, particularly YA.

The foreword by Darren Chetty is powerfully written, and as an expression of hope and intent the book delivers exactly what it sets out to.

This is brilliantly followed by the poem by Musa Okwonga – The Elders on the Wall: “My choices are two:/Either I stand here,/Chip away at each brick,/Or… turn and run…” I think we all need to chip at the wall a little harder, and as a starting point I’d recommend you read this book, buy this book, borrow this book.

Then, ask publishers for more.

A Change is Gonna Come is published by Stripes Publishing and is out now

Alien Augmented Reality Survival Manual

Alien was the scariest film I ever watched as a child so naturally I became obsessed with it and became a fan of the franchise.

Over the years I read novelizations, comic book adventures set in the Xenomorph universe and got my bloody Alien fix through these and the later films and prequels.

I have to say that the U.S.C.M. Alien AR Survival Manual is the best Alien related thing I have seen since Aliens!

This book is the official training guide for the United States Colonial Marines and going by the movies, boy do they need it! Filled with bits of backstory about the Marines, the Weyland Yutani Corporation, various characters from the films, the space ships and weaponry this is the perfect book to read compulsively from cover to cover or dip into from time to time and choose arbitrary points to open the book to find something to grab your attention.

from this…

…to this


The augmented reality app can be downloaded on Apple and Android platforms and is usable throughout the book, linking short videos to pictures and also a brilliant interactive training section (my favourite being trained to land a drop-ship onto a pad on my desk).
A lot of work has gone into producing this book, it looks fantastic and contains a ton of information on all the Alien-related films and the AR additions are the best I have seen!

I landed this drop-ship safely on my desk using my smartphone


This book is highly recommended for all sci-fi fans and will be extremely popular in libraries (I have several students clamouring to be the first to borrow it)

The Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Guide is available from www.carltonbooks.co.uk at a price of £25